the spiritual journey of Norm Macdonald | Nic rowan


Iit is often tempting to immediately canonize the deceased. But it’s never fair: Giving unwarranted praise about a dead person can be even more insulting than speaking badly of their memory.

Take the case of Norm Macdonald. The comedian, who died on Tuesday after an undisclosed nine-year battle with cancer, was best known in life for his jokes about OJ Simpson, a Comedy Central anti-roast and a shaggy dog ​​story about a moth. During his last decade, he developed a fervent cult as he produced increasingly bizarre material, often touching on his faith, death, and the afterlife. Now that he’s gone, some of his fans are turning to this late work and turning him into a Christian apologist.

The impulse is understandable. Macdonald vaguely considered himself a Christian. And he had no quarters for those who laughed at religion. In 2015, he was a judge on the NBC show “Last Comic Standing” when a competitor delivered a joke trashing the Bible as pathetic in relation to the Harry Potter series. One of the hosts called the performance “courageous”. Macdonald was not impressed.

“I think if you want to tackle an entire religion, maybe you should know what you are talking about,” he said. “JK Rowling is a Christian, and JK Rowling said if you know the scriptures you can easily guess the end of her book.”

Macdonald later Recount the hollywood reporter that tearing apart faith is past these days. Real bravery, he said, is for an artist to do the opposite: “If a guy would go up and say, ‘Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior,’ I would say, ‘Damn this guy. is brave! ‘ Or, ‘The infidels must die under the sword of Allah!’ I was going to say ‘Damn, he’s a good comic.’ ”

Macdonald often made these kinds of statements himself. During an interview with Larry King, Macdonald stung the longtime TV host for the “god-shaped hole” in his heart. He did the same to Jerry Seinfeld a few years later when the sitcom legend expressed doubts about the afterlife. For his part, however, Macdonald admitted only to be “on a spiritual journey”.

Macdonald may only have been interested in Christianity, but his critiques of the post-Christian world were often incisive. He had no tolerance for scientism and didn’t care about atheists. He often made fun of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher. And he wasn’t afraid to make grim predictions about a future dominated by their successors.

“The Enlightenment has diverted us from the truth and turned us towards a dark and weakened horizon, sad and gray to see,” he tweeted in 2018. “The afterglow of Christianity is almost gone now, and a Stygian silence watch.

But it was still the highlight of Macdonald’s insight. Like many of the best comics, he saw the enormity of the world and, since there was nothing he could do about it, decided to laugh rather than cry. It’s no wonder Macdonald excelled at 9/11 jokes.

And it’s no surprise that he has a soft spot for Russian literature, especially the work of Vladimir Nabokov, whose style he imitated in much of his memoir, Based on a true story: not a brief. Nabokov, Macdonald later said, practiced the “highest form of parody” and was the kind of comic whose work he hoped to emulate. And in his own way, Macdonald has succeeded: many of his best pieces are essentially Pnin, but swept the mouth of a drunk hockey fan. He never takes himself too seriously.

“I always bristle when people say, ‘The comedian is the modern day philosopher,'” he said. Recount new York in 2018. “There are modern day philosophers.

Perhaps this humility helped him as Macdonald drew to a close. Towards the end of his life, it seemed like he was working on more consistency in his faith, at least for many of his Twitter followers. It’s hard to tell what was going through his mind and probably irresponsible to guess.

“Like everyone else, I am looking for real faith of course”, he said. tweeted in 2019. “It was quite a long and difficult journey, at least for me. “

Now that his journey is over, we can only pray that he has found it.

Nic Rowan writes from Washington, DC.

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Image taken from a video by Norm Macdonald.

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